Lima: the Pinnacle of Peru in London
Lima Fitzrovia is a (Michelin) superstar of contemporary Peruvian cuisine.
When the Philosopher and I sat down for lunch at Lima he remarked: “I never did do a gap year so this will be it.” Gap years are supposed to be about discovery — yourself, a beach, something along those lines. Currently in food circles Peruvian is being touted as the new Catalan — or is it Mexican? But I haven’t managed to eat at Ceviche in Soho and the dishes at Lima, overseen by Virgilio Martinez, were a revelation to both of us. I never had a gap year either.
Martinez has cooked in many parts of the world at very different establishments — the late Santi Santamaria’s Can Fabes near Barcelona, Lutèce in New York and The Ritz in London are a few — and now has his own restaurant, Central, in Lima. He is a keen proselytiser for Peruvian biodiversity and the sometimes unique produce of small growers from the Andes to the Amazon combined with the galvanising effect that immigration, much of it from Asia, has had on the indigenous cooking. It is a heady synthesis perpetrated with flair and with the understanding of a good time.Lima restaurant
An open kitchen — where apparently the fiancée of Martinez works alongside head chef Robert Ortiz — separates a bar with a high table at the front from the rear dining area with its pitched glazed roof and the detail of grey-painted stepped wooden walls that I told the Philosopher authoritatively (I have never been to Peru) were referencing Macchu Picchu. Quick as a flash he admired the Inca-inspired stitching on the banquette scattered with cushions covered with geometric patterns that may well be messages in Inca ideographic language.
We started lunch with Pisco Sours. Made with the eponymous clear grape brandy, sugar syrup, foaming egg white and bitters, a pisco sour is the perfect pre-meal skirmish with the flirty and sardonic. I started to mourn the gaps in my life when I hadn’t known about pisco sours.
First courses are divided into tiraditos, ceviches and causas (fashioned with mashed potato). Tiraditos might be said to be the result of the Japanese influence on Peruvian raw fish preparation rather than vice versa, as exemplified by Nobu. The fish is cut more thinly than for ceviche, there is no onion in the garnish and the marinade/dressing has more of a wallop. Salmon combined with rocoto aji (yellow) pepper, organic radish, celery and samphire was challengingly emphatic and also visually enticing. I have to say here that I am not wild about white fish ceviche. Having something tepid and limp in your mouth can re-activate memories that you would as soon banish for ever. lima fitzrovia
One of the arresting qualities of dishes at Lima is their beauty — due to a vivid use of natural colours. When I saw ceviche of artichoke, white onion, Amazon tree tomato (aka cocona) and pink peppercorns, which I think is the translation of molle, I thought I would like a dress in exactly those colours and in the way they were arranged. Pungent micro-herbs play a part of constantly elbowing your taste buds and quizzing your taste memories. London lima
Potatoes, one of nature’s greatest comforts and a Peruvian staple – and invention – run through the savoury courses in a fascinating way that would convert the most ardent carb-avoider. Suckling pig topped with Amazon cashew comes with 4,000-metre potatoes. They would sort out those Zil lanes.
Octopus with white quinoa, red shiso and botija olives (allegedly the most flavourful olive in the world) is a wholly satisfying assembly and an argument for wider restaurant use of octopus. Lamb shoulder was rendered too long and glazed too commonly but the black quinoa, coriander, white grape and pisco cinnamon accompaniment compensated. lima London restaurant
A dessert of Chanchamayo coffee, coca leaf, chamcaca (raw sugar) and olive oil had the grace to look healthy but taste sweetly seductive.
Michelin star restaurants
London lima Rathbone place
Lima London address: 31 Rathbone Place, W1T 1JH
Lima opening hours: Mon-Sat noon-2.30pm & 5.30-10.30pm.